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Trahan, Pappas, Kuster, Moulton Request EPA Changes to Combined Sewer Overflow Grants to Bolster Merrimack River Cleanup

Trahan, Pappas, Kuster, Moulton Request EPA Changes to Combined Sewer Overflow Grants to Bolster Merrimack River Cleanup

LOWELL, MA – Today, Representatives Lori Trahan (MA-03), Chris Pappas (NH-01), Annie Kuster (NH-02), and Seth Moulton (MA-06) submitted public comments requesting changes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed formula that will be used to disperse federal grant funding to states and municipalities for efforts to prevent combined sewer overflows (CSOs), sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), and for stormwater management.

“Communities along the Merrimack River have been doing everything they can to limit harmful sewage and stormwater overflows, but more help from the federal government is long overdue,” said Congresswoman Trahan. “Federal funding for CSO projects will go a long way toward helping communities in need, but the current formula proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency will place our communities at a clear disadvantage. I’m proud to join with my colleagues to request changes to the EPA’s formula. We will not give up until communities along the Merrimack get the federal assistance they need to tackle this important issue.”

“Our rivers are a natural resource that we must do everything to protect including by updating our outdated infrastructure. Unfortunately, the EPA’s proposed formula will not fairly allocate CSO grants to our communities,” said Congressman Pappas. “I’m proud to partner with my colleagues to ensure that the Merrimack River gets the grant funding our region needs to address this health and environmental hazard and curtail the discharge of untreated sewage into the Merrimack.”

“Sewage overflow presents a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of Granite State communities, and it is imperative that the federal government step up and provide assistance to help combat this problem,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “Unfortunately, the current formula proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency to fund Combined Sewage Overflow projects is insufficient and does not do nearly enough to make sewage and stormwater systems safer. I urge EPA Administrator Wheeler to heed the concerns my colleagues and I have brought forth and work with us to ensure our communities get the support they need to do right on this issue.”

“By any metric, sewage flowing from wastewater plants into the drinking water of 600,000 people is dangerous and disgusting,” Congressman Moulton said. “Fighting CSO in a river that crosses state lines is the perfect job for the EPA. They should be leading cleanup, not making states beg for money. We’re going to keep fighting back until our rivers are clean and our communities are safe.”

Despite being first authorized in the 1990s, funding for the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants Program was appropriated for the first time in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. On August 4th, the EPA published a proposed formula for public comment describing how federal funding will be allocated to state and local governments through the grant program. The 30-day public comment period closes today, September 3rd.

The EPA alarmingly opted to use the total population of each state as a critical factor for funding through the formula despite it being an inaccurate descriptor of states’ needs for CSO funding. This proposed change would hurt states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire which have higher CSO funding needs than many other states, but smaller populations. The lawmakers urged the EPA to “replace the total population with a metric that weighs per capita needs.”

Additionally, the lawmakers also suggested the following changes to the EPA’s new formula:

  • Encouraged the EPA to meet its lawful obligation to provide more frequent updates to the Clean Water Needs Survey, the most comprehensive dataset for identifying states’ CSO, SSO, and stormwater management needs;
  • Urged the EPA to prioritize the awarding of Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants to assist financially distressed communities, including those along the Merrimack River;
    • The Clean Water Act includes a requirement that financially distressed communities be prioritized for this kind of funding, and the House of Representatives recently adopted provisions of the Representatives’ Stop Sewage Overflow Act to ease the financial burden of wastewater projects on these communities.
  • Increased transparency from the EPA regarding formula data, including posting the complete set of data used to make allocations no less than 30 days prior to the funds being released.

The Merrimack River Watershed Council estimates that nearly 800 million gallons of untreated sewage dumped into the Merrimack River from six urban treatment plants in 2018 alone. In the past two months, the Council has announced and The Eagle Tribune has reported on untreated sewage releases in Haverhill and Lawrence.

Representatives Trahan, Pappas, Kuster, and Moulton have consistently advocated for increased federal funding for CSO programs in communities along the Merrimack River. Most recently, the lawmakers also supported passage of a funding package in the House of Representatives that included increased FY 2021 funding for the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants Program.

The lawmakers also secured the adoption of key provisions of their Stop Sewage Overflow Act in the House-passed infrastructure bill, H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act. Under the legislation, the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants Program will be authorized to provide $400 million annually over the next five years, and the federal government will be directed to further invest in financially distressed communities in need of CSO funding. H.R. 2 is currently pending before the U.S. Senate.

A digital copy of the public comments filed by the lawmakers can be accessed HERE.